2014 Episcopal alums, Charles Cooper (University of Southern California) and Adam Clausen (Birmingham-Southern College), are set to graduate college this spring. Best friends since high school, and even serving as the President/Vice President duo for their senior class, the two continue to collaborate on creative endeavors. As we approach the 5th annual LAUNCH Day, Cooper & Clausen caught up with Thesis Program director, Katie Sutcliffe, to talk about their original vision for LAUNCH and how their time at Episcopal has shaped their dreams and ambitions.
Katie Sutcliffe: What are you guys up to these days? What are you involved with in college? Major? Other activities?
Charles Cooper: At USC, I’m in the business school studying real estate and finance. In terms of other activities I am involved in, I really enjoy sitting and eating pizza. Just messing (only sometimes). Earlier in college, I was really involved in different clubs and my fraternity. This year and especially this semester, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling. I went to San Diego, Lake Tahoe, and New Orleans all in the last three weeks, so I would say I’m living my best life right now! I am planning on taking the GMAT at the end of the summer to have the option of business graduate school in the distant future, so I’ll be studying for that as well.
Adam Clausen: I just finished my senior soccer season in November so I had to find something to fill the void for this semester as I am no longer a college athlete (sigh). Currently, I am a Biology major with an art minor (art minor and creative side spurred from our Thesis class). So with that creative side, I managed to land a job as a creative intern for a health advising company here in Birmingham called Pack Health. I create helpful infographics and videos for them, and it’s a lot like the Honors Thesis process where I thoroughly research a topic, but instead of writing a paper, I make an infographic to explain the information in a fun and simplified manner.
KS: Tell me about this podcast project you have going on together! I was really excited to see you two collaborating on a project like this and would love to know more about “The Scoop w/ Clausen & Coop.”
AC: Haha, oh that thing? Yeah, so Charles and I lived together this summer. I was lucky enough to land a job footwear designing out in Los Angeles where Charles would be working for Disney. There we decided to bunk up, and along the way we came up with the idea to make our own podcast. Originally we were just making it for our friends from high school and college, but as the summer went by more and more people got interested. We showed our parents, our parents showed other parents, students showed teachers, and so on (much like Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping point” - definitely just kidding!). As the summer went on we would get snapchats and texts from people we hadn’t seen in a while saying they loved it or they wanted to be featured. Now it is kind of weird when we go home because the first thing people talk about is how they love our podcast and different topics they wish they could have chimed in on. For instance, Charles and I went to a Pelicans game over the break and we saw Coach Richard and Coach Bourgeois and immediately we talked about the Scoop. It was a fun hobby for the summer, but it has been difficult to keep tabs on when we returned to school. Fun Fact: Charles’ friends now sometimes just call him Scoop, so that’s hilarious.
going to be some really long work weeks. While I am excited for this, my real goal is to learn something valuable and gain an expertise in corporate America because Adam and I have big plans to go entrepreneurial together. I’m relying on him for the creativity aspect with his design skills to get us going, but we have big plans in mind (hopefully!).
AC: For me right now it is design. I have found a lot of fun in making ideas come to fruition and much of that spurred from this class [Thesis]. Originally when I got to college I was dead set on going to medical school, but as time went on I reflected on LAUNCH and other events in my life, and I realized that I had a lot of creative energy that I didn’t want to go to waste. Right now I have been talking with Foot Locker and Under Armour for a future in design, and I have an offer in Los Angeles again with Wolf & Shepherd, which was the company I worked for last summer. Hopefully in a few weeks I should know the answer.
KS: Help us understand where LAUNCH all started. What was your original vision? What was your hope for its evolution or integration into student life?
AC: This is one of my favorite stories and I actually use it often in my design interviews today. The first glimpse of what would later become LAUNCH Day started in 2012. I was thinking back how much work Charles’ sister put into her thesis. It seemed as if every time I was over at Charles’ house to study for my sophomore worries she would be working away at her Thesis project. Then when she presented during the time slot that was normally for students’ break, it made it hard for the students to pay attention and care. So I began to think, if I were to present a year long project, I don’t want to present to a bunch of people who’d rather be somewhere else. I began to think of what would make for a more fun environment, and one day I thought what if I could present outside. Then one day I had it all kind of mapped out in my head, and so as bad as it is to say, mid-class when you were teaching, Mrs. Sutcliffe, I just started to sketch the idea because I couldn’t hold the thought back much longer. I drew a stage, speakers, balloons, food, outdoor chairs and seating arrangements, people in the crowd with smiles. It was a simple sketch, but I wanted to get the point across that we needed to move away from making students go into an auditorium and sit and listen during their break. I figured if I could present outside (with snacks) that would at least make it somewhat easier and people more happier. I then turned to Charles and explained the idea. He was thinking the same thing, and it was he who brought it to the class. At that same time our Honors Thesis class hadn’t decided on a class legacy project. So I went to the board and sketched out that picture in my head so that everyone in the class could see. Charles and I pitched the original idea of just moving the presentations outside with other arrangements to make the experience more enjoyable. For some reason we have gotten a lot of credit, but it was everyone in that class that made LAUNCH day what it is. They were the ones who took that glimpse of an idea and created a day. They made presentations outside into a full, fun day involving teachers, students, and guests, and they did it all just in time so that we could present to the administration the idea just in time for it to become our class project and the rest was history.
CC: Yeah, we had the same thought process on this. We wanted people to be excited (or at least curious) about our thesis when presenting because we put so much hard work and time in it. We noticed that the previous method of thesis presentations were not as effective in terms of grabbing people’s attention. Logistically, it really is a win win-win for everyone. As thesis students, you get the appropriate stage and attention for your presentations; for the other students, you get an opportunity too to showcase something and you don’t have class, and then the administration gets to pump out some marketing/PR for having a unique event compared to other schools. The big thing for me (which I understand has gone really successfully) was to give students who weren’t in Thesis the opportunity and stage to present in subjects that they were experts in. It’s a really refreshing idea to take a break from a normal school day and listen to what your peers have knowledge and passion about.
And for how it started, I just remember constantly chirping in Adam’s ear about doing something different regarding the Thesis presentations, so he finally drew out a little design of what it would look like and then you and Mr. Engholm liked the idea!
KS: How do you feel about the fact that LAUNCH is now in its fifth year?!
CC: It’s so cool! I love that our class got to start this trend and that it has become an annual event. I can only imagine how much better it is now with you and Mr. Engholm getting the chance to improve it with your students each and every year.
AC: I honestly never thought it would catch like it did. I was amazed at what our class was able to make it into, and to see other classes continuing the tradition is truly something incredible. You know I just finished a book called Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build An Incredible Career by 99u (which is basically a collection of creative minds). In it they talk about how the best creations start off as simple ideas that someone pitches to a group, and if that someone surrounds themself with the right group of people they will build that idea into a juggernaut. That is exactly what our class and the following classes have done with this idea. We have made something that future students will look back and say I wonder what school was like without LAUNCH Day and how did they not think of that sooner? So I guess I have a lot of thanking to do. But it is truly awesome to see what an idea has become thanks to the culture created within that class.
KS: How have your experiences at Episcopal contributed to your successes in college?
CC: The Honors Thesis program was the number one reason I felt comfortable going into my college classes. You get exposed to everything: independent and creative thinking, collaboration, different viewpoints, hard work, and special people! You learn when to ask questions and look for help versus when you need to just be independent and figure something out on your own. I really can’t speak more highly of the overall program, you, and Mr. Engholm. I always tell people it was my best academic experience as a high schooler and recommend anyone going to Episcopal to apply for it.
AC: It helped tremendously my first two years by making public speaking just a little bit easier. It made me unafraid to speak my mind and answer in classes. In science classes (and even in my job today) I walked in with a lot of research experience because of Thesis, so that helped a ton. Often times in a lab setting in college I was often selected for a leadership role because I was used to speaking in front of people, and I still wouldn’t even consider myself anywhere close to a great speaker, it is just that little bit of experience prior to, made a world of a difference.
But the biggest contribution this all has had on my life was that it helped me realize my potential as a creative thinker. I remember sitting in class and Megan [Escott] turned to me one day and said you should really consider some sort of design, and I kind of laughed wishing I could have that kind of career. Then as time went on I realized what the class and myself had achieved with LAUNCH Day was quite the accomplishment and was certainly indicative of a creative mind. A few more experiences in colleges solidified that, and now I am more in tune with what I really enjoy (being creative and design), which will most likely be my passion for a while all thanks to this class.
another quote that inspires me. My quote goes like this, “If you can’t dream, you can’t innovate, and if you can’t innovate, who is going to push this world forward?” Just before that quote in my response I explained that I have many ambitions and to define who I am under one label would do a disservice to my imagination. So the moral of the story is that what you do next in your life (whether it is picking a college, picking a job, picking a career) is not finite you can always change and adapt so don’t be afraid to dream. Then there is a quote that I LOVE from The Shoe Dog (a story on Phil Knight) that originated from Confucius, “A man who moves mountains begins by carrying away small stones.” And that’s where I will leave it. Thank you guys!
Katie Sutcliffe has served in many capacities involving writing and service learning over the last six years at Episcopal. Currently, she directs the Thesis Program, teaching both Seminar juniors and Thesis seniors, and is the co-creator of LAUNCH, Episcopal’s annual TEDx-style student-planned and executed showcase of ideas and projects. Katie’s own history involves this blend of service and writing: after graduating from a small liberal arts college in Indiana with an English degree, she moved to the Deep South with Teach For America where she taught middle school English and worked passionately on issues of educational inequity. She later earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Pittsburgh and returned to Baton Rouge where she has continued freelance writing. Katie infuses social justice initiatives into her curricula and seeks to help her students make meaningful connections with those living a different experience within our larger community. She’s passionate about character education and project-based learning, as well as research and writing that